Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

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See also Current awareness services in health libraries, Medical podcasts & videocasts and Mashups in medicine

RSS is an abbreviation for really simple syndication or rich site summary. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is one of the many web 2.0 formats that facilitates alerting and information 'syndication' for regularly changing content on the web. These RSS feeds make it possible, for example, for users to keep up with news at their favourite websites without having to visit those sites on a regular basis. Instead, updates are sent via the RSS feed to an aggregator that is available to readers.

The feeds themselves - 'RSS feeds' or 'web feeds' - form part of web 2.0. Today, different types of web content are syndicated using RSS and Atom. Most websites that feature RSS feeds are designated by "XML", "RSS" or "syndicate this site". These RSS feeds allow users to see updates in a web reader. Most RSS feeds are specified in XML (a markup language for data formats), delivered to an RSS reader as a file which is the actual RSS feed. To read feeds, an aggregator is needed such as Google reader. There are many others from which to chose; some people view Twitter and Facebook as RSS services.

Where RSS feeds are used

  1. Blogs - to alert readers when new information is posted
  2. Newspapers and journals - to alert readers when news is published
  3. Press releases and announcements - RSS is a useful tool for formal announcements, such as those from Health Canada.
  4. News updates - Google News
  5. PubMed has an RSS feature for current awareness as do other databases such as EBSCO.

Readers, Aggregators and Searching RSS feeds

Broadly speaking, RSS aggregators are categorized as follows:

  • Bloglines (defunct as of Nov 1, 2010) and iGoogle are free RSS readers that provide easy access and management of RSS feeds.
  • Here's a list of RSS readers:
  • Standalone clients - use to downloaded results to your computer. SharpReader is a popular free standalone RSS reader.
  • Plugins are integrated into software packages like Microsoft Outlook, and downloaded to your desktop.

For an easy introduction to RSS, use an aggregator. No software is needed, and your RSS account can be accessed from any computer. MedWorm is a free medical RSS provider as well as a search engine built on data collected from RSS feeds. It collects updates from over 2,500 data sources (growing each day). MedWorm provides new feeds for quick browsing. To search general RSS feeds, provides a robust searching interface (click on the "Blogs and Feeds" tab).

Top RSS Feeds in Medicine

Specialized Lists of RSS Feeds

Using RSS feeds in health

The content delivered via web feeds is usually in a markup language. As health websites are updated, the RSS feeds that have been created on those sites help to notify end-users that changes have been made. Often, the RSS feed is a summarized version like an abstract or information snippet rather than the text of a full article.

RSS and other web-based feeds have offered advantages for the user experience:

  1. Users can be notified of new content without having to actively check for it in e-mail.
  2. Information presented to users in an aggregator is typically simpler, and easy to read.
  3. Numerous medical journal feeds, pages, and websites are now integrated in one place.
  4. Media files like podcasts and vodcasts can be automatically downloaded without user intervention.

RSS readers and aggregators like Bloglines and MedWorm monitor live feeds and display articles as they are published. Most major websites and journals in medicine now have RSS and XML feeds. Some allow selecting between RSS and Atom formats.



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